July 19th 2010: Club seats
October 27th 2012: Lower Baseline Box
October 28th 2012: Upper Box Infield
By: Cole Shoemaker
Straight up: I love Comerica Park. At first glance, Comerica Park appears to be another HOK (Populous) assembly line ballpark. But as of 2012, it looks like it may have pulled off the biggest coup on this website. This is the kind of article that could bring my website a heap of trouble, as I’ve talked to so many Tiger fans that are deeply steeped in their belief that Comerica Park is an inherently inferior ballpark, especially in comparison to Tiger Stadium. If you are going to play the Tiger Stadium card, I’m never going to convince you. But you need to finally hear it: in comparison to the other new ballparks, Comerica Park isn’t just a good ballpark, but one of the best parks in all of baseball.
I think it’s clear that out of all the ballparks built in the last 25 years, Detroit’s palace is easily the most overlooked. There’s more to it than meets the eye. Superior urban integration, along with ample space and amenities, make Comerica one of the best in baseball. Critics and fans have been slow to realize it, because it’s not Tiger Stadium. It’s not just me, as the folks from Baseball Fever and other ballpark websites to the New York Times have been claiming Comerica Park is extremely underrated for years.
But even I didn’t expect it to rate this highly.
I love the way it physically integrates the team’s name and city into the structure unlike any other. I love how it’s more objectively outstanding than many parks of the era, a fact no one seems to recognize. I love how it doesn’t try to divide fans along hierarchical lines, but still provides all the requisite luxury amenities. I love the simplicity of the interior design, which completely avoids loud quirks without being boring and bland, a very difficult balance to achieve. No fake rocks, sand boxes, or pools here. It’s beautiful without a distinguishing feature.
But most of all, I love the irrational hatred the ballpark gets for not being like Tiger Stadium.
This baby was never given a chance. Nationally, perhaps it had to do with the other two ballparks that opened in 2000, AT&T Park and Minute Maid Park. Both received much more fanfare for obvious reasons.
AT&T Park was the most scenic facility ever seen and Minute Maid Park was one of the loudest parks ever seen, with its innovative interior design, numerous quirks, and home runs. Comerica was also strongly derided for its ridiculously cavernous dimensions. We can all agree they were originally absurd.
But what’s most striking is the outcry from the locals. As much as it pains me to say, Tiger Stadium simply can’t be mentioned in the same breath as Fenway or Wrigley in terms of 21st century viability, fan support, or aesthetic appeal.
Fenway and Wrigley will last well into the century because their design allowed for the integration of 21st century amenities, along with strong fan support. And lets be honest: I’m not questioning the fans sentimental attachment to the old gal, but Tiger Stadium just wasn’t as pretty.
Detroit’s Cochrane Plan wasn’t on the same level as the Fenway renovations in extent or support. And when the Sox called for a new ballpark, it was modeled after Fenway. New Yankee Stadium is modeled after Yankee Stadium.
There’s a reason Comerica Park is not Tiger Stadium II. Sure it was fashionable to support Tiger Stadium, but the attendance numbers painted a different picture. The fans didn’t want to sit behind support columns and use dark 17 feet wide concourses. Yeah, of course they should have cantilevered the upper deck of Comerica more for better field proximity, but its not too much worse than PNC Park. They needed a new ballpark to generate revenue. You think Tiger fans would have paid the prices Sox fans are paying now to compensate?
What’s most ironic is that Tiger management took noticeable steps to ensure that the fans were still close to the action, despite the “spread out” feel. A two deck design with no separate club level was requested early and a higher than usual percentage of seats are on the first level. In fact, the top row of the upper deck is only slightly higher than PNC Park.
But fans didn’t particularly care about any of that. They didn’t care about the gorgeous skyline view. They didn’t care that Comerica has more amenities than parks built 10 years later. They didn’t care about the unique yet subtle classic touches, such as the old fashioned moveable box seats. They didn’t care that Comerica had the highest proportion of comfortable seats. They didn’t care that Comerica brought an important seating innovation down the right field line. They didn’t care that officials took bold steps to maintain the egalitarian feel of Tiger Stadium. So the national media didn’t really care to look either.
Built during the “gimmick boom” of the early 2000s, when understated ballparks were forgotten, Comerica went unrecognized for a while. But it provides a great ballpark experience. It opts for the quieter retro touches and packs a surplus of amenities into the park without being ostentatious.
And 12 years later, people are beginning to realize its one of the more underrated in baseball. It really belongs with same category as the authentic retro parks like Camden, Jacobs, and Coors. I talk ad nauseam about visually letting your city into the ballpark, and Comerica does that as well as any. It’s pretty simple, people. The truth is Comerica Park is intentionally understated to emulate the simple feel of Tiger Stadium, just with a 21st century sensibility. The problem is, with such an open and spacious feel, it lacks the cozy enclosure or intimacy of the Tigers’ former palace, and it is often labeled the anti-Tiger Stadium.
But the main point you should take away is, objectively, Comerica is unusually well rounded in terms of amenities and functionality, succeeding in almost all aspects you could want. The concourses, restaurants, egalitarian premium seating model, more comfortable seats, new videoboard (2012), entertainment options, references to team history, and other amenities are all executed to perfection.
When asked what’s the best ballpark in the majors, I used to say there’s really no perfect ballpark objectively. You can point out flaws in each. But when the Tigers’ antiquated video board got replaced, which happened in 2012, Comerica Park clearly became the least flawed ballpark in the majors under the 16 categories of objective criteria. Who knew? It’s fun to see how Comerica Park’s perception has evolved.
Looking at everything on the aggregate, Comerica does indeed deserve the top spot, which is sure to create a lot of controversy. I’ll talk more about this in the conclusion. With superior contextual integration and graceful interior lines, Comerica Park is good enough aesthetically, despite not surpassing PNC Park or AT&T Park. But Comerica is also unusually well rounded in all objective categories, unlike the aforementioned consensus jewels, meaning it will annually compete for the best ballpark in baseball.NEXT - Setting